Blue Rondo a la Turk

I am scattered of late, with a dozen things pulling in as many directions. Here’s a quick highlight reel of some notable experiences:

Bliss joins The Edge of Heaven as another great Turkish export. On the one hand, I’d like to credit something in the climate or the water over in that neck of the woods. But I think that there’s probably a decade or more of good movies from all sorts of places that you don’t think of as film meccas; it’s just that now we have access to world cinema better than ever before. (When I hear complaints about the lack of creativity right now, I just have to scratch my head. Tons o’ crap, as always, but the world is truly so much more accessible. I HEART technology.)

The two movies couldn’t be more different. Bliss is about a young village girl who, because she will not identify her rapist, is sentenced to be executed by her cousin, fresh from “killing terrorists” in the Iraq war. They travel, first to Istanbul and then as ad hoc crew members for a professor trying to pound through a mid-life crisis on a small yacht. Away from home, the world is beautiful, life is precious, and the film captures every exquisite awakening. Despite being exquisite-looking itself, the movie moves along a great clip; it’s one of the most suspenseful coming of age stories you’re likely to see, and it’s riveting without ever feeling rushed. Abdullah Oguz directed, Özgü Namal, Talat Bulut and Murat Han all star.

The Edge of Heaven, on the other hand, deals wholly with the modern world. Directed by the hugely talented Fatih Akin, it’s a series of interlocked quests, with mothers searching for lost daughters and vice versa. It has a devastating love story at the center, and perhaps most importantly it has the great Hannah Schygulla, now in her 60s but just as powerful as when she was (or at least seemed to be) in every important German movies in the 70s. I haven’t seen it in close to a year so won’t attempt to write about it other than to say if you’re up for a Turkish double feature, well, here you are.

Animal Kingdom is being marketed, bizarrely, as “the Australian Goodfellas.” This comparison could have only been made by someone who’s either lazy or hasn’t seen a whole lot of movies. David Michôd is the artistic son of early Peter Weir, his movie soaked in the dreamy yet brutal atmosphere and rhythms of Weir’s wonderfully strange and trippy movies The Last Wave and Picnic at Hanging Rock, with a rich look that calls to mind David Fincher at an adagio tempo (hard to imagine given Fincher’s love of stacatto). It kicks off with a young boy, Josh, played by the marvelous James Frenchville, sitting next to his mother; she looks like she’s dozing as they watch TV, but she’s o.d’d on heroin, fatally. Only 17, he moves in with his grandmother and her tribe of gangster sons, and is quickly immersed in their live-or-die-by-the-sword world. There’s not a weak link in the almost completely unscored movie. It’s dense and heavy, and I wanted to watch it a second time, but had to take it back to the library. But I loved it. Guy Pearce is great, as is everyone, especially the remarkable Jackie Weaver, the matriarch of the clan, terrifying behind her doting smile and constant demands from her sons for kisses full on the lips.

Meanwhile, in the print world, I had picked up David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy, thinking Dennis might be interested in it since he’s memoir mode. I think he only glanced at it, but I ended up jumping in and was quickly hooked. Sheff’s son, Nick, became addicted to meth while still in high school; his honesty and anguish make for a tough read that I had a hard time putting down. It’s the truest account of watching an addiction that I’ve seen, and much better and less self-indulgent than Mary Karr’s annoying and critically adored Lit. Sheff bravely does not end the book at the logical place, when Nick, in recovery, sends a note to his little brother asking forgiveness for stealing $8 from a piggybank to pay for drugs. Nick relapses, more than once; David has a stroke, no doubt exacerbated by the terrible stress. It’s only through the relapses that David comes to terms with his own addiction to his son’s addiction. It’s extremely courageous writing, and it doesn’t succumb to sentimentality or self-pity. A true accomplishment.

I loved Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and it’s thrilling to see Herzog in this phase of his life. At some point, a Herzog appreciation will be in order. For now, I thoroughly encourage you to get into a theater and see this in 3D while you can. The glasses aren’t even that dorky at this point. Give it a shot.

Back soon with something more coherent, but just wanted y’all to know I’m still around.

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